James McAvoy as Cyrano in Brooklyn

A group of people on a stage

It’s a very pleasant little shock: We were used to imagining Cyrano de Bergerac as Gérard Depardieu. But, in the new production of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, we rediscover him with the blue eyes, the powerful body and the Scottish accent of the movie star, James McAvoy.

The power of words, still relevant

No sword or cape or prosthetic nose in this adaptation of the play by Martin Crimp. Instead, the word is master, the rest is derisory. It works, because this very free adaptation of Rostand’s dialogue is poignant, funny and relevant. The weapons are microphones, the set is made of a few chairs and a mirror. The costumes are jeans and jogging suits. The play opens with a the characters engaged in an exercise in meta-theatre and addressing the audience directly. We are seduced by the humor and the anthology of English accents we hear from all over the U.K. The famous nose tirade is an energetic rap battle that has the audience nodding in rhythm.

Cyrano de Bergerac is not a love story. It is a lesson and a warning about the often underestimated power of words, of mastering rhetoric and language. This lesson is timeless. There is no better example of this than the electrified BAM audience, motionless, silent, straining not to miss a beat of Cyrano’s stunning declaration of love to Roxane (played by Evelyn Miller). A breathtaking acting performance by McAvoy, literally. The spectators are all the more involved because, during the dialogues, the actors are facing them. Sitting next to each other, Roxane, Christian, de Guiche and Cyrano talk to each other but don’t always look at each other. But we believe in their dialogue all the same.

Judgment of the bodies

In addition to the power of eloquence, director Jamie Lloyd’s production emphasizes other themes so current that it is almost surprising that they were already relevant in the 19th century. Cyrano’s nose is used as an excuse to talk about the body and beauty. It is no coincidence that the female characters are all covered, from head to toe, in loose-fitting clothes, while the bare legs and torsos of Cyrano and his cronies are displayed at length. Lloyd explicitly questions the audience’s judgment of bodies, its comfort level with “reversed” nudity, and the denial of women’s traditional accessories of seduction.

The  production, which won the Olivier Award for Best Contemporary Adaptation in London, has come to BAM in full force. The hall is full, the audience all ears. On the subject of hearing, it is worth noting the amazing contribution of Vaneeka Dadhria who provides the only soundtrack of the play with live beatboxing. Cyrano in 2022: panache, verve, and a devil in the body.

Playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music until May 22, 2022. (To listen to an interview with Jamie Lloyd and Evelyn Miller on the BBC, click here.)

This article was translated from its original French for Frenchly.


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